Embracing the Impressionist credo of painting modern life, Degas concentrated on the daily rituals of urban dwellers. In this image, typical of his bather scenes, Degas captures his subject from behind and in motion as she vigorously towels herself after a bath. Bright light pours in from the window, highlighting her left breast but otherwise casting her body in shadow and limiting clear definition of both facial and bodily features. This composition thus denies much of the erotic charge associated with more traditional images of the passive female nude. As many have noted, however, the furnished domestic interior suggests an unusually intimate glimpse into the routines of a bourgeois woman—a candid view that challenged the proprieties of that class at the time.
Unlike his fellow Impressionists, Degas remained devoted to more traditional working methods, including the execution of numerous preliminary drawings for finished works. The summary definition of form, quick brushstrokes, and monochromatic sepia tones suggest that this work may be the under-drawing for an ambitious but unfinished painting.
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